Maryland’s athletic department has been a financial mess. Rutgers took on huge amounts of debt in order to finance athletic facilities upgrades the school really couldn’t afford.
The Scarlet Knights are at least competitive on the foot
ball field this year. Rutgers leads the What’s Left of the Big East Conference and may be in line for a Bowl Championship Series bid if it can close the deal with wins over at Pittsburgh this Saturday and against Louisville at home on Nov. 29.
The Terrapins haven’t managed even that. Two years after firing coach Ralph Friedgen despite a 9-4 campaign that included a win over East Carolina in the Military Bowl, Maryland has not exactly been a raging success under Randy Edsall.
The Terps were 2-10 in Edsall’s first year, including closing the season with eight straight losses. This year, Maryland is 4-7. Two years, no bowl appearances – that has been Maryland’s reward for taking Edsall away from Connecticut, a move he handled with the class and dignity of your average drunken stripper.
Many fans have spent Sunday and Monday confused as to why the Big Ten would want these two schools. Maryland won a national title in basketball in 2002 but has been middling ever since. Rutgers’ last success in basketball was a team that started 30-0 in 1976 before losing back-to-back games at the Final Four (back in the days when there was still a third-place game at the Final Four).
Make no mistake; this has absolutely nothing to do with what these schools bring on the field. Rather, it’s what they bring in the Nielsen ratings. By adding Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten extends its regional footprint into the lucrative television markets of New York, Washington and Baltimore.
The price of changing neighborhoods will be steep. Maryland faces a $50 million fee from the Atlantic Coast Conference for leaving, a fee approved by a 10-2 vote of university presidents in the conference. Shockingly enough, Maryland was one of the schools opposed to the increased fee. Florida State also wanted it left at $20 million.
This comes just months after Maryland dropped seven sports in an attempt to cut its multimillion-dollar deficit. Under Armour is obviously more interested in providing the Terrapins with a new uniform combination every week than about helping the school keep a swimming team.
Rutgers knows about red ink. It’s been drowning in it for years now. The athletic department operated a deficit of nearly $27 million in 2010-11 according to the Newark Star-Ledger and cut six sports in 2007.
Big the Big Ten will be renegotiating its tier 1 television rights in 2017 and having those big eastern markets will make what the conference offers much more attractive to the network types.
That’s what is driving this: Television money and football. It makes sense for Maryland and Rutgers to do this, even if it means Maryland is dropping 60 years of tradition in a conference it helped to found in a trash bin.
The Big Ten had made a play a couple of years ago when it snagged Nebraska from the Big 12. Since then, the Pac-10 became the Pac-12, the SEC went to 14 schools and the Big 12 and ACC were actively pillaging schools from the Big East.
So it was the Big Ten’s turn to raise the stakes just a little more.
Maryland and Rutgers reap the rewards from that, rewards earned not for having well-run, competitive programs.
Rather, Maryland and Rutgers benefit for one of the simplest reasons in economics: Location.